Specific wave patterns in the jet stream strongly increase the chance of heatwaves happening simultaneously in different places, a new study shows.
The study’s authors say this could have major implications for global food production since the simultaneous heatwaves often occur in the major food producing regions of Northern America, Western Europe and Asia.
The research was carried out by an international team of scientists and lead by Dr Kai Kornhuber of the University of Oxford’s Department of Physics and Colombia University’s Earth Institute.
Kornhuber said there was “a 20-fold increase in the risk of simultaneous heatwaves in major crop producing regions when these global scale wind patterns are in place,” and noted that such events are likely to become more severe under the effects of climate change.
“Until now this was an under-explored vulnerability in the food system,” Kornhuber said.
According to the team’s findings – published in Nature Climate Change – cereal crop production was reduced by as much as 10% during years in which the atmospheric wave patterns occurred during two or more summer weeks. They noted that Western North America, Western Europe and the Caspian Sea region are particularly susceptible to the wave patterns.
They concluded that a better understanding of the causes of this jet stream phenomenon is needed in order to mitigate risk and safeguard global food production.